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AFRICOM seeks to determine if US military at besieged Mali hotel

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 20, 2015

STUTTGART, Germany — U.S. Africa Command is working to confirm that no American military personnel are inside the Radisson Blu Hotel in the capital of Mali, which was attacked Friday morning by Islamic militants who took 170 people hostage.

“At the present time, we are not tracking any U.S. personnel staying at the Radisson,” Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, an AFRICOM spokesman, said shortly after the attack began Friday morning. “We are working to confirm that.”

About 10 attackers, armed with grenades and guns, seized 170 hostages at the hotel in the city of Bamako, according to media reports.

The U.S. military maintains a small presence in Mali, where French forces have been involved in a long campaign against al-Qaida-aligned militants.

There are 10 U.S. troops stationed in Mali who provide “planning and coordination assistance” for a United Nations stabilization force, AFRICOM said. Six more personnel are permanently assigned to the U.S. defense attache at the U.S. Embassy.

Mali has been in a state of political turmoil since a 2012 military coup that toppled one of Africa’s more stable democracies. The subsequent chaos enabled Islamic fighters and other militants to take advantage of a security vacuum in the country’s north to gain a foothold in the region.

That prompted French forces in 2013 to launch a surprise intervention to counter the militants, who were advancing into Mali’s south.

France has been largely successful in pushing militants out of strongholds, though about 1,000 French forces remain in Mali. Over the years, the U.S. Air Force has provided a range of logistical support to the French troops carrying out the mission.

vandiver.john@stripes.com